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Current food production systems could lead to far-reaching habitat loss

According to new research, the global food system could drive rapid and widespread biodiversity loss if not changed.

The finding shows that the global food system will need to be transformed to prevent habitat loss across the world. It shows that what we eat and how it is produced will need to change rapidly and dramatically to prevent widespread and severe biodiversity losses.

Scientists estimated how agricultural expansion to feed an increasingly wealthy global population is likely to affect about 20,000 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians.

Their research suggests that without big changes to food systems, millions of square kilometres of natural habitats could be lost by 2050.

Nearly 1,300 species are likely to lose at least a quarter of their remaining habitat, and hundreds could lose at least half. This makes them far more likely to go extinct.

The study estimated how food systems would affect biodiversity at a finer spatial scale than previous research (2.25 km2), making the results more relevant to conservation action by highlighting exactly which species and landscapes are likely to be threatened.

It did so by linking projections of how much agricultural land each country will need with a new model that estimates where agricultural expansion and abandonment are most likely to occur.

By looking at whether individual animal species can survive in farmland or not, the researchers could then estimate changes in habitat, finding that losses were particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of Central and South America.

Many of the species that are likely to be most affected are not listed as threatened with extinction, and so are unlikely to be currently targeted by conservationists.

The study examined the potential impact of making these ambitious changes, modelling whether transitions to healthy diets, reductions in food loss and waste, increases in crop yields, and international land-use planning could reduce future biodiversity losses.

This approach enables policymakers and conservationist to identify which changes are likely to have the largest benefit in their country or region.


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